Vinegar flavored drinks have a long and storied history.
In a nutshell, a shrub, is a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. The sweet, acidic mixer gets its name from the Arabic word sharab, which means, “to drink.” A shrub can be consumed on its own with club soda, but added to cocktails; it provides a distinct tangy bite that adds complexity and a bold depth of flavor. Bartenders have their own trade secrets when it comes to making shrubs. Here are few:
Combining two or more shrubs
At the Washington Marriott Georgetown, bartender Alex Munoz uses a Strawberry Dill Shrub made with strawberries, white vinegar, water, sugar, and fresh dill combined with a Hellfire Habanero Shrub made with Capitoline rosé, Drambuie, and lemon juice; mixed with bone marrow rye (Sagamore Rye Whiskey infused with bone marrow) to create his Savor the Moment cocktail. “The combination of subtle habanero spice from the Hellfire Habanero Shrub mixed with the Strawberry Dill Shrub has a unique flavor,” explains Munoz. “A sweet front and sour and spicy finish with a hint of dill on the nose, which really allows the bone marrow rye to have a mellow finish, so drinkers can really savor the moment.”
Juan Calderon, head bartender at Proof on Main at 21c Museum Hotel Louisville Kentucky combines unlikely ingredients in his shrub cocktail called Pacha, made with mezcal, fresh lime juice, Kale Apple Shrub, allspice dram, and a pinch of salt.
“I made this cocktail to highlight the bright shrub flavor profile of kale and apple combo,” he says. “The earthiness of the mezcal and the tartness of the lime intensify the drink and a little touch of allspice brings it all home.”
Clay bar director Andrea Needell Matteliano’s blend of mezcal, manzanilla sherry and chamomile tea is complemented by a bold, spicy house-made orange-ginger-cardamom shrub and finished with a bitter aperitif. “Shrubs are a great way to add acidity to a cocktail without the use of citrus juice. In the Midnight Sun, Chardonnay vinegar adds a delicate acidity, its fruity notes complementing the orange zest, while imparting the vibrant flavors of cardamom and ginger without adding too much viscosity and sweetness like syrup would. The chamomile tea balances the sharpness of the shrub with delicate tannins, mezcal adds vegetal smokiness, and manzanilla sherry gives an engaging salinity,” says Needell Matteliano.
“I especially like playing with shrubs in stirred cocktails, not only for the flavor profile, but also for the visual effect, since the end result remains translucent.”
– New York’s Clay bar director Andrea Needell Matteliano
At Henley, head bartender Benjamin Rouse uses shrubs to highlight specific flavors from the base spirit. His G&T uses a seasoned shrub to complement the Tangueray No.Ten. “The shrub for our G&T gives us a great option to utilize seasonal fruits and vegetables in a fun and sustainable way. We highlight specific flavors from the gin and it adds both acidity and balance to the cocktail without using a citrus juice, i.e. the lemon or lime wedge. We also tend to season our shrubs with spices that are found in the base spirit we are using. This gives the drink that extra touch of complexity!”
“A shrub is essentially a vinegar syrup that has been lightly fermented–think kombucha without the bubbles.”
– Benjamin Rouse, Bartender at Henley, Nashville Tennessee
In Fort Worth, Texas, Jason Shelly of Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. says, “Cocktails with shrubs are a great way to add brightness, acidity, tartness, and depth of flavor. Also, shrubs are a fantastic way to keep all types of fruits in cocktails through the winter months. A simple version of a Bee’s Knees with our TX Whiskey and honey shrubs turns out fantastic!”
How to Make a Shrub
There are basically two methods to making shrubs: the cold infusion method, and the hot syrup method. The hot way is quicker, but not the “true” way. The cold method, extracts much more flavor from the fruit and ends up tasting less jammy.
What You Will Need
Vinegar: The most common vinegar used in shrubs is apple cider because of its milder, fruitier taste. There are, however, lots of other options like good quality white wine vinegar; a complex, aged balsamic combined with figs is heavenly, or Champagne vinegar combined with blackberries is elegant and delicious.
Sugar: White granulated sugar works perfectly, but experiment with different types. Turbinado, honey, and brown sugar will add their own flavor profiles.
Fruit: There is almost no limit here, you could literally work your way through the seasons: rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, peaches, plumbs, figs, apples, pears … anything.
Spices and Aromatics: Add fresh herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, basil, rosehips, ginger, cardamom, whole pink peppercorns, star anise, sumac and cloves.
The Basics: 1:1:1 ratio of vinegar, sugar and fruit.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup fruit
- 1 cup vinegar
Discard any bruised or discolored fruit, wash and chop into pieces.
In a sterilized, medium sized jar, combine the sugar, fruit, and herbs. Place on the lid; give it a good shake. Allow the sugar-fruit mix to sit and macerate for 24 hours. Give the jar a shake every few hours.
The sugar will withdraw the water from the fruit. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a bowl. Return the liquid to the jar and discard the fruit. Combine the syrup with the vinegar, mix and refrigerate. Shrubs will keep for several months refrigerated.
Try These Combinations
Strawberries + brown sugar + balsamic vinegar + thyme + vodka
Blackberries + white sugar + Champagne vinegar + gin
Pear + honey + ginger + apple cider vinegar + rum
Apples + rosehips + brown sugar + cinnamon + apple cider vinegar + whiskey
Oranges + apple cider vinegar + white sugar + sumac spice + rye
Pineapple + agave syrup + jalapenos + apple cider vinegar + mezcal